“MESDAMES et messieurs, it is with much emotion that I stand before you today for the last time as the general of the Milice de Sorcellerie,” Marcel Chavinier said, his voice hoarse as he regarded the press corps he had faced so many times. In the wings, Raymond Payet blinked against the lump in his throat as he watched the man he so respected moved by such a depth of emotion. “As we speak, the Milice is being officially dismantled and its operatives returned to civilian life once again. To those who have served with me these past two years, I say thank you. Our survival as a society owes itself to your dedication and sacrifice. For those who will be welcoming them back into your offices and your lives, remember what they have gone through and be patient with them. Many of them are wounded in body and spirit. Many of them have suffered great loss. Some of them have also welcomed vampires into their lives, forming partnerships that will extend beyond the Milice and affect them in ways we are only beginning to understand. Those men and women have suffered and sacrificed as well and deserve your respect and your open-mindedness. I can’t order you to accept them, but I would ask that you give them the same chance you would give any new person of importance in your friends’ and colleagues’ lives. They have earned that at the very least.
“As I return to private life as well, I begin to feel my age,” Marcel continued. “Unlike most of the wizards I commanded during the war, I am not a young man anymore. I’ve spent the last sixty years in public service to the wizarding community and to France as a whole. I’m tired, mesdames et messieurs. So once the Milice is completely decommissioned, I will be retiring from my other public roles as well. L’ANS will pass into the able hands of a younger generation as we move forward into this new reality where vampires are an acknowledged, valued segment of the magical community and of society as a whole. It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you the new head of l’ANS, whose experience, ingenuity, and dedication will help usher in a new age in the world of magic: Raymond Payet.”
In the wings, Raymond glanced at Jean for reassurance one last time before stepping onto the dais and joining Marcel at the podium. When the polite applause died down, Raymond focused on the cameras, knowing his true audience was not the journalists assembled in front of him but the people watching at home and the ones who would read about it in the paper the next day. “Thank you, Marcel, for the kind introduction,” he began, clearing his throat to be heard more effectively. He and Jean had spent hours preparing for this moment, writing and rewriting his speech, examining every nuance to make sure he said exactly what he wanted to say, nothing more, nothing less.
“Mesdames et messieurs, fellow citizens, I stand before you today greatly humbled by the responsibility placed on my shoulders by one of the greatest wizards, indeed one of the greatest men, alive today,” Raymond began. “None of us would be here today to celebrate the end of the war and to look forward to a brighter future had it not been for Marcel Chavinier and the sacrifices he made over the past two years.” Hearty applause met his words, bringing a smile to Raymond’s face and tears to Marcel’s eyes.
When silence returned to the room, Raymond continued. “Today is a new beginning for l’ANS in many different ways. For some years now, l’Association Nationale de Sorcellerie has been synonymous in many minds with wizards. And while we certainly fall within the purview of l’ANS, we represent one small portion of the magical realm. We are doers of magic, calling on an intrinsic ability to create extrinsic effects, but we are hardly the extent of magical creatures. L’ANS must become more than just a society of wizards. We must become the voice for all magical beings, mortal, immortal, living or undead. We must usher in a new era of equality that acknowledges and celebrates our similarities and our differences.
“Some of you, both here and at home, are asking yourselves right now what you could possibly have in common with some creature of the night, some shapeshifter or faerie or goblin or troll. The answer will vary from person to person, from race to race, but every one of you who has ever married, promising to love your spouse until death do you part, has something in common with one vampire who will have one partner, one lover, one source of blood for as long as that person remains alive. Every one of you who has lost a spouse has something in common with another vampire, who buried his Avoué four hundred years ago and still mourns his loss, and with the oldest vampire in Paris, who still mourns his Avoué fifteen hundred years later. Every one of you who has held a child you love in your arms has something in common with the werewolves, who celebrate every new birth because they happen so rarely. You may think you have nothing in common with the so-called lesser magical races, but I tell you now: you’re wrong. As we move forward, l’ANS has expanded its mission to protect and speak for not only the wizarding community, but the magical community as a whole.
“The alliance that allowed the Milice de Sorcellerie to win the war against Serrier and his rebel wizards has formally ended, along with the war itself and the Milice, but the need for magic has not disappeared. One of the reasons the alliance was so vital was that it freed wizards to attend again to the necessary task of maintaining the magical equilibrium that allows our world to exist. Imagine our delight then when we discovered that the very making of the alliance contributed far more effectively than anything we wizards could do on our own. The link between vampire and wizard has become not merely military but magical as well in profound, lasting ways that we still do not fully understand. That, too, will be one of the new roles of l’ANS: researching the partnership bonds so that we can use them to their fullest potential and properly prepare any vampire or wizard who wishes to participate for all the repercussions.
“In 1944, we recognized the right of all citizens to vote regardless of gender, guaranteeing women equal protection under the law. We stand now at another historic moment, having given vampires that same protection. No longer will they be subject to discrimination because of their nature. No longer will they have to hide who they are for fear of being cast out of their homes or having their businesses destroyed. I am not naïve. I know it will take more than just the passing of the equal rights legislation for attitudes to change. However, as the new head of l’ANS, I pledge the full support of the organization—financial, legal, and moral—to seeing that legislation become a reality for every vampire just as we already work tirelessly to address issues related to the wizarding community. Discrimination, in any form, cannot be allowed to exist. We fought a war to keep that very thing from happening. We cannot ignore it from those who do not choose to attempt an overthrow of the government in order to air their grievances.
“As much as we all would like to pretend otherwise, Serrier struck a chord with enough wizards to carry out a rebellion that lasted for two years. While I deplore the methods he used in his attempt to effectuate change, I understand why his propaganda resonated with some wizards, and so I say now to those disaffected within society: I welcome dialogue with each and every one of you. The only way we can avoid a repeat of this terrible war is by addressing the underlying reasons behind it. Serrier was a megalomaniac whose madness cost him his life and his reforms. While we are well rid of him, we must be proactive and seek ways to avoid a recurrence, not only of the war but of the grievances that led to it. Already, I have spoken with the President about revisiting the laws concerning dark magic. Knowledge is never evil. It is how that knowledge is used that determines whether something is good or evil. It is the intent behind a spell that determines whether it is, in fact, dark magic, not the spell itself.
“Finally, as the new head of l’ANS, I intend to push for an increase in education and outreach services with the intention of avoiding situations like far too many I heard from wizards who sided with Serrier; where young wizards, teenagers, often, were persecuted much as the vampires have been because they were different. Magic is not something to be beaten out of children. Nor is it something to be feared. Rather, it is a gift to be nurtured and trained so that it can be used to the benefit of society. Wizard or vampire, werewolf or faerie, the magical races are a part of this world for a reason. We are a part of this country, and it is time everyone recognized that, ourselves included.
“Mesdames et messieurs, thank you for your time and attention. We have a long road ahead of us, but we have taken those first, all-important steps. Bonsoir.”
The reporters shouted questions after him, but Raymond paid them no attention. He simply walked off the dais, through the wings of the auditorium, and into Jean’s waiting arms.
“Whatever the future brings,” Jean murmured in Raymond’s ear, “I’ll always support your position as head of l’ANS. In le Jeu des Cours, in Parlement, within l’ANS, or in the media.”
Raymond’s joyful laughter echoed off the walls. He had trouble believing how far they had come. Only yesterday, when Marcel had made his announcement to l’ANS, Raymond had received a standing ovation from the wizards who had fought with the Milice, a show of support Raymond would not have believed possible a few months ago. And he had the vampires—this vampire—to thank for that. He hooked his arm through Jean’s. “Let’s go home.”
One year later
RAYMOND ducked inside his apartment building, cursing the rain that dripped down the back of his neck despite his ensorcelled coat, which was supposed to protect him from the weather. He really needed a coat with a hood.
Either that, or he needed to adjust the wards on his and Jean’s apartment to let him displace himself directly inside rather than having to walk through them. He’d been telling himself to do that for over a year, but something always seemed to take precedence. Like convincing the world he didn’t have the same megalomaniac tendencies that had possessed Serrier, despite having sided with the dark wizard at the very beginning of the rebellion. He had told Marcel making him head of l’ANS was a mistake, but Marcel had not listened. Raymond was glad of that most days. He enjoyed the work, enjoyed the challenges of addressing all the changes brought about by the alliance and the war and the equal rights legislation. He could have done without the bureaucracy, but he figured it was a part of any job, and at least he had the clout to cut through a lot of it. Not as much as Marcel, but far more than he had expected when he agreed to take the job. It helped that no one knew, even now, exactly what to expect from….
“Jean.” The arms around his waist could belong to no other, if only because the wards wouldn’t let anyone else through without his express permission. He and Jean had debated that point extensively, but in the end, they’d agreed that making any exception set a precedent for other exceptions, and neither of them could afford to be at risk. Nor did they want people, friend or foe, dropping by at all hours of the day and night. Marcel had maintained a true open-door policy, both at his office and at home, but while Raymond was willing to offer that consideration at work, he had no desire to share the home he and Jean were building with unexpected callers.
“How was your day?” Raymond asked, turning in Jean’s embrace. They kept the same hours, having adjusted their schedules to allow both wizards and vampires access to their assistance, but they rarely saw each other for more than a few minutes while they were working unless they scheduled a meeting. The days of spending their entire shift together had ended with the war.
“Long,” Jean replied, his lips resting against the side of Raymond’s neck, making the wizard hope Jean would ask to feed tonight. It had been three days, and Raymond still missed the intimacy of the near-constant feeding. He knew it had been a product of the situation, not something they could maintain in the long term. That seemed to make no difference to his need, particularly when their schedules kept Jean from feeding every night.
“Mine too,” Raymond agreed, arms going around Jean’s slender waist, still amazed even after a year at his lover’s deceptive appearance. Jean did not look strong enough to hurt a fly. Raymond had watched him throw a grown man across the street without straining. He closed his eyes as he breathed in the spicy scent of Jean’s cologne, wondering if he dared leave his news until morning. It might not stop Jean from feeding, but it would certainly kill any more romantic thoughts.
Jean sighed, kissing Raymond’s neck and lifting his head. “We have a problem.”
Raymond echoed his sigh. “I’m guessing it’s the same problem that landed on my desk today. Paul Charlot and his partner?”
Jean nodded. “You’d think all our warnings would keep people from forming partnerships unsupervised, but from what Guillemin told me, neither one is happy with the bond.”
“Merde,” Raymond groaned. “Paul said the same thing. All people need to do is look at Alain and Orlando or Sebastien and Thierry or any of the other partnerships that formed during the war to see there’s more to the bond than simply protection from daylight and a boost to the wizard’s power.”
Jean shrugged. “Vampires see the brand on Alain’s neck and look no further than that for an explanation of Orlando’s behavior.”
“I’ll buy that for Orlando and Alain,” Raymond allowed, thinking about the instant attraction and almost equally immediate bond between Jean’s best friend and Raymond’s second-in-command. “The Aveu de Sang puts them in a class by themselves, but Thierry doesn’t have a mark. Mathieu doesn’t. I don’t.”
Jean laughed. “You’re the president of l’ANS. I’m chef de la Cour. Thierry is a past master at hiding what he feels behind his mask of strategist, and the others aren’t nearly as much in the public eye. We see it because we know to look for it and because our ties to the other ex-combatants act as a sort of pass into their confidence. You know what they’re feeling without having to be told, and so you see the little signs outsiders miss.”
Raymond could see Jean’s point. He hardly advertised the fact that he came home every night to the bed and arms of the chef de la Cour. People who knew them realized it, but a wizard who had spent the war anywhere but in Paris might not. Paul, the wizard who had been waiting for him when he arrived at three o’clock that afternoon—he worked from three to one in the morning so he would be available to vampires who were still confined by daylight—had not even been a member of l’ANS during the war, having only come into his magical abilities six months ago. Raymond did not know his partner, Guillemin, to know why the vampire had disregarded all the warnings. Unless the lure of being protected from sunlight by his partner’s blood was sufficient to override his common sense. “There’s got to be a better way to deal with this.”
“There is,” Jean reminded him, seeing the concern and frustration on his lover’s handsome face. He reached up and smoothed the worry lines from the wizard’s forehead, feeling once again the attraction that had little to do with the short dark hair, strong features, and beautiful body and everything to do with the strength of character that lay beneath the surface. “It just keeps taking second place to everything else we’re trying to accomplish.”
L’Institut Marcel Chavinier. Raymond’s dream and the ultimate tribute to his mentor and the man whose brilliance and courage led to the founding of the alliance and the creation of the partnerships that had won the war and continued to define the lives of so many. “We aren’t ready to go forward with it yet.”
“Why not?” Jean asked seriously. “What’s really holding us back?”
Raymond laughed bitterly. “Time? Money? Curriculum? Faculty? The hundred other things requiring our time?”
Jean nodded his understanding. “I’m not used to being subject to the whims of the Parlement and the rest of the world. I’ve ruled my own Cour for so long that I’m used to setting my agenda and ignoring everything else. I know it isn’t that simple, but we’ve got two men whose lives have been turned upside down.”
“No more or less than ours were a year ago.” Raymond had not wanted a partner, much less a lover, had fought the bond between them tooth and nail. Thankfully, he had failed spectacularly.
“No,” Jean agreed, “but we were fighting a war, ready to make sacrifices in order to win. For most of us, the resulting partnerships weren’t sacrifices at all, but do you really think Adèle wouldn’t undo her bond if she could?”
“I know she would,” Raymond replied, thinking ruefully of the most heinous case of incompatibility he had witnessed among partners. Paul and Guillemin might not be happy with the far-reaching influences of the bond on their lives, but he doubted it could compare the kind of misery Adèle and her partner Jude had inflicted on each other before the decommissioning of the Milice de Sorcellerie had allowed her to leave Paris and her partner as well. As far as he knew, they had not seen each other in over a year. The scholar in him wondered if the bond had broken in that time or if it merely lay dormant, waiting for them to be together again. His own need for Jean had in no way lessened, but they lived in constant proximity and Jean fed from him regularly. Even when those feedings did not include making love, they were some of the most intimate moments of Raymond’s life. When Jean did make love to him with his body as well as his fangs, nothing else could compare. “So you think we need to ignore the agenda we’ve laid out and focus entirely on l’Institut?”
“I think if we don’t, we’re going to have more and more problems like the one we have now, and that isn’t fair to our people, yours or mine,” Jean clarified. “We’ve worked hard to establish l’ANS as a voice for wizards, vampires, and other magical creatures alike. We can’t afford to lose the faith of our own people because then we’ll have no credibility with anyone else.”
Jean’s words made sense, a reminder to Raymond that he did not have to navigate the minefield of public life alone. His partner—his lover—was a past master at le Jeu des Cours, the subtle vampire game of power and position that governed so much of their interactions with each other. As a chef de la Cour, the leader of the vampires, Jean had lived under constant scrutiny since taking on that role in Paris almost four hundred years earlier. If anyone could help Raymond balance all the demands on his time, it would be Jean. “Then the question is how to explain the change in priorities.”
“No, the question is who to leave in charge of other priorities while we focus on l’Institut,” Jean corrected. “Alain and Orlando can take over some of the legislative work. Thierry would spell us both into next week if we did that to him, but he can do some of the outreach work you’ve been doing yourself. He’s good with people. Let him take over the education campaign. Fabienne can easily handle the complaints that come in, separating out the ones you need to deal with from the ones anyone in l’ANS can handle. At this point, she probably knows the drill as well as you do.”
Raymond had to admit the truth of that statement. His secretary, a paired vampire, had proven herself a genius at organization, handling the bulk of Raymond’s correspondence and paperwork with an ease he envied. Being a vampire, she kept him from doing anything that might cause Jean to lose face in le Jeu des Cours and helped explain issues relating to vampire culture. Having a partner gave her an equal sensitivity to wizards and their concerns. Her partner spent his working hours with the task force that maintained the equilibrium of the elemental magic. “I could leave Mathieu in charge of the magical balance. He already does all the work. He could make the decisions instead of waiting for me to tell him where to focus.”
“That’s the spirit,” Jean encouraged. “It’s getting late. Have you had dinner yet?”
“I had a dinner meeting tonight,” Raymond confirmed with a yawn.
“Then it’s bedtime,” Jean declared. “We’ll take tomorrow to look at everything we have going on and decide how to delegate it. By the end of the week, we should be able to devote ourselves completely to l’Institut.”
Raymond nodded his agreement. “I need a bath first,” he amended. “I couldn’t get warm today.”
The chill did not bother Jean the way it did mortals, but he was not opposed to having his lover wet and naked.
“I’ll join you,” he proposed, urging Raymond down the hall into the generous-sized bathroom, by Parisian standards, anyway. The white claw foot tub was, like most everything in Jean’s apartment, himself included, a remnant of a bygone era, but it was big enough for both men, and the hot water heater was efficient. Jean turned on the taps before turning his attention to his lover, his hands skimming efficiently over Raymond’s clothes, buttons and zippers yielding to their expertise. In moments he had his lover naked for his delectation.
Raymond let him, a fact that always warmed Jean’s heart, the memory of his partner fighting their bond still vivid in his mind for all that over a year had passed. Raymond’s self-mastery was phenomenal, which made the knowledge that he accepted Jean’s touch, Jean’s bite, all the headier. Jean had not seduced his lover into their relationship because his lover was proof against such machinations. He was there, in Jean’s apartment, Jean’s bed, Jean’s life because he had chosen to be. Jean was pretty sure that made him the luckiest man on the planet. His lips lingered on the scar that followed Raymond’s spine, a vivid reminder of the past. Raymond would say it was a reminder of his fallibility in falling for Serrier’s propaganda at the beginning of the rebellion, l’émeutte des Sorciers as it had come to be called. Jean disagreed, though he knew he would never convince Raymond of his point of view. He saw it instead as a mark of bravery, for despite the scar on his back and all it represented, Raymond had defected, fought against Serrier, and seen him brought low. To Jean’s knowledge, only two other wizards alive bore similar marks. The others had met their end in the final battle. As he always did when Jean saw the scar, he traced its length with his tongue. He did not actually expect his saliva to heal that mark as it healed the bites from his feeding, but that did not dissuade him from his ritual. If nothing else, Raymond needed the reminder that Jean did not view the cicatrix as a mark of shame.
Raymond’s eyes closed as a gasp escaped his lips, the same reaction he had every time Jean’s mouth found the livid line on his back. He kept thinking he would grow accustomed to his lover’s insistence on touching his mark of Cain, but even after a year, it still took him aback that anyone would want to lavish attention on his disfigurement. Jean had never hesitated, not from the first time he had seen it, both of them engorged with power from the Piège-Pouvoir they had undertaken to clean up an outburst of wild magic. He shivered as Jean’s tongue slid lower, all thought of anything but his lover fleeing in the wake of the hot wet muscle drifting across his buttocks. “I thought we were going to take a bath,” he murmured.
“We will,” Jean promised, “but I hope that isn’t all we’re going to do.”
Raymond’s body reacted predictably, his cock hardening, the rest of him melting with heat. He would have sagged if Jean’s hands had not caught him. As it was, his legs trembled as Jean’s tongue worked its way into his crease. He leaned forward, bracing his hands on the sink, wondering if this would be the time when Jean’s fangs pierced the sensitive skin of his buttocks. He had begged Jean repeatedly to stop protecting him from the feel of his fangs, but the vampire had yet to yield. Jean’s lips closed over his entrance, sucking eagerly at his flesh, and Raymond pushed back against him, needing more, deeper, harder. Jean complied as if reading Raymond’s mind, his tongue pushing its way inside, hot and agile and driving Raymond wild. His head fell forward onto his hands, little moans escaping his lips. “Jean!”
“In the tub,” Jean ordered, pulling back and divesting himself quickly. “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of you.”
Raymond considered begging again, but ultimately he needed a bath, although he was certainly no longer cold! They might as well combine the two. He stepped into the tub, turning back to watch as Jean’s body came the rest of the way into view. Long and slender, he managed to be commanding even when naked, sending a thrill through Raymond as he anticipated giving in to the quietly imposing presence.
Jean joined him in the tub, looming over Raymond’s reclining form. Kneeling down so he straddled his lover’s hips, he took a moment to stroke his hands down the planes of Raymond’s chest, enjoying the way the hard muscles jumped beneath his fingers. When Raymond tipped his head back, Jean leaned down and nipped lightly at the line of the wizard’s jaw.
“Please,” Raymond whispered.
“You don’t have to beg,” Jean assured him. “I want it as much as you do.”
Raymond doubted that was possible, but protesting gained him nothing. Instead, he let his head fall all the way back against the edge of the tub, offering the full length of his neck for his lover’s mark. Jean did not hesitate to accept the offer, his tongue sliding across Raymond’s skin before his fangs penetrated, delving deep. Raymond arched up, his body seeking more contact with his lover’s.
Jean obliged, bearing down against Raymond’s cock, the erotic frottage enough to have both of them moaning. It took only a matter of minutes before they were both desperate for release. Jean slipped his hand between their bodies, closing it around both cocks, the additional pressure enough to trigger their mutual climax.
Licking delicately at Raymond’s skin, Jean lifted his head and kissed his lover tenderly.
“Did you take enough?” Raymond asked desultorily.
“More than enough,” Jean assured him. “Let’s finish your bath and go to bed. We have a lot to do tomorrow.”
Raymond nodded, reaching automatically for the shampoo. He bathed quickly, the lure of lying in bed beside his lover enough to push him past his sex-induced lethargy.
Jean helped him dry off and led him into the bedroom, pushing aside the black brocade curtains that enclosed the four-poster bed. Raymond all but collapsed onto the dark sheets, reaching up and drawing Jean down beside him.
“Sleep well,” Jean murmured, giving Raymond a final kiss.
Raymond pulled Jean closer as sleep overtook him, needing the consolation of holding his lover close. Jean moved willingly, watching as the lines of stress and worry slowly faded from Raymond’s brow. Smiling, he pressed a light kiss to the corner of his lover’s lips and settled in to enjoy the hours spent in his wizard’s arms.